Italy arrests 5 in probe of 2016 German Christmas market attack
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Italy arrests 5 in probe of 2016 German Christmas market attack

Suspects accused of activities relating to ‘international terrorism’ linked to Tunisian Anis Amri, who killed 12 by ramming a truck into crowd

View of the area of the Christmas market area and the destroyed booths targeted by an attack with a truck two days ago in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin on December 21, 2016. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)
View of the area of the Christmas market area and the destroyed booths targeted by an attack with a truck two days ago in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin on December 21, 2016. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

ROME, Italy — Italian police Thursday arrested five people as part of an anti-terror raid linked to a Tunisian who staged a deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market in 2016, Italian media reported.

Anis Amri, a rejected asylum seeker, had rammed a stolen truck into the crowded square, killing 12 people and wounding about 100 others.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on December 19, 2016 — its deadliest ever carried out in Germany.

Amri, who had previously lived in Italy, was killed four days after the assault by police in a Milan suburb.

The five detained Thursday morning are accused of activities linked to “international terrorism” and procuring false documents for migrants, the Italian AGI news agency reported.

A clip shows suspected Berlin attacker Anis Amri pledging allegiance to Islamic State ahead of the truck-ramming at a Christmas market that killed 12 people (screen capture: YouTube)

The suspects included a Tunisian national from the city of Latina, south of Rome, who had allegedly planned to provide Amri with fake identity papers to help him flee abroad, investigators told AGI.

The raids were carried out in several cities including Rome, Latina, and Naples.

Amri, who was 24 when he was shot dead by police, landed on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa in 2011 and spent four years in prison in Sicily for burning down a school.

In the aftermath of the Berlin attack, Italian police raided several homes where Amri had reportedly stayed in 2015 in an agricultural region southeast of Rome.

The press reported that he had spent several weeks in Aprilia, about 40 kilometers south of the Italian capital, with a fellow Tunisian whom he met in Lampedusa.

At the time, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni ruled out the existence of “networks” supporting Amri in Italy, but judicial authorities said that the country’s criminal underbelly often provided logistical support to European terrorists.

Following the deadly market attack, German police faced fierce criticism when it emerged that Amri — who had been in Germany since 2015 and was registered under several different identities — should have been deported.

A woman lights a candle underneath the Christmas Tree near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on December 20, 2016 one day after a truck crashed into a Christmas market. (AFP/CLEMENS BILAN)

On Wednesday, Italian police also arrested a 23-year-old Italian with Moroccan parents, Halili Elmahdi, in the northeastern city of Turin.

Police said Elmahdi showed alarming signs of radicalization and was promoting Islamist extremism on social networks.

During a raid at his home, security forces uncovered manuals indicating how to kill someone with a knife and instructions for installing a bomb on board a truck.

The homes of 13 of Elmahdi’s contacts were searched on the same day in several Italian cities.

Elmahdi is suspected of seeking to recruit Muslim “lone wolves” in Italy to commit attacks.

Prosecutors said that the 23-year-old, who was under surveillance after being arrested in 2015 on charges of glorifying terrorism, may have been ready to commit acts of terror because of his radicalisation.

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